By Suhail Ahmad Wani
“Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god & therefore they have to crawl in front of her too.”
(Brigadier Reginald Dyer)
JallianwalaBagh a garden belonging to the Jalla, derives its name from that of the owners of this piece of land in Sikh times. It was then the property the family of SardarHimmat Singh, a noble in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), who originally came from the village of Jalla, now in Fatehgarh Sahib district of the Punjab. The families were collectively known as Jallhevale or simply Jallhe or Jalle, although their principal seat later became Alavarpur in Jalandhar district. On Baisakhi, a Sunday, the festivities were muted and the streets were quiet, but the Golden Temple was flush with devotees. As the day wore on, the nearby JallianwalaBagh, a quadrangle with a well, surrounded by tall houses and two narrow passages, began to fill up with people, many of whom had been to the Golden Temple and Mall Mandi, famous for its animal fair. Many locals trickled in after hearing an announcement by Baalo, a halwai and town crier, on the evening of April 12. He asked people to join a meeting at the JallianwalaBagh at 4pm on Baisakhi. Its agenda: to protest the arrest of DrSatyapal and DrSaifuddinKitchloo, who had been opposing the RowlattAct.On Sunday, while some people listened keenly to the speakers slamming the Rowlatt Act as “no vakeel, no daleel, no appeal” the law that let the government arrest and detain people without warrant and trial others sat around in groups, eating langar being served by volunteers
In the Punjab, during World War I (1914-18), there was considerable unrest particularly among the Sikhs, first on account of the demolition of a boundary wall of GurdwaraRikabgang at New Delhi and later because of the activities and trials of the Ghadrites almost all of whom were Sikhs. The strike in Lahore and Amritsar passed off peacefully on 6 April by observing a complete lockdown.
On 9 April 1919, whole city celebrated Ram Navmi with a procession led by Dr Hafiz Mohd Bashir. “It was for the first time that it was fronted by a Muslim”. Deputy Commissioner Miles Irving, he says, sent a telegram to then Punjab Governor Gen Michael O’ Dwyer, saying ‘they have united’ following which the police arrested DrSatyapal and DrKitchlew on April 10 morning, and packed them off to Dharamshala in Himachal. On the same day Mahatma Gandhi’s entry into Punjab was banned under the Defence of India Rules. On 10 April, Satyapal and Kitchlew were called to the deputy commissioner’s residence, arrested and sent off by car to Dharamshala, a hill town, now in Himachal Pradesh. This led to a general strike in Amritsar. Excited groups of citizens soon merged together into a crowd of about 50,000 marching on to protest to the deputy commissioner against the deportation of the two leaders. The crowd, however, was stopped and fired upon near the railway foot-bridge. According to the official version, the number of those killed was 12 and of those wounded between 20 and 30. But evidence before the Congress Enquiry Committee put the number of the dead between 20 and 30. As those killed were being carried back through the streets, an angry mob of people went on the rampage. Government offices and banks were attacked and damaged, and five Europeans were beaten to death.
On 11th April 1919, Miss Marcella Sherwood, an English missionary, fearing for the safety of her pupils, was on her the schools & send the roughly 600 Indian children home. While cycling through a narrow street called the KuchaKurrichhan, she was caught by a mob, pulled to the ground by her hair, beaten, kicked & left for dead. She was rescued by some local Indians, including the father of one of her pupil, who hid her from the mob & then smuggled her to the safety of Gobindgarh fort. After visiting Sherwood on 19th April, local commander General Dyer, issued an order requiring every Indian man using that street to crawl its length on his hands & knees. General Dyer later explained to a British inspector: “Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god & therefore they have to crawl in front of her too.” He also authorized the indiscriminate whipping of locals. The civil authorities, unnerved by the unexpected fury of the mob, called in the army the same afternoon. The ire of the people had by and large spent itself, but a sullen hatred against the British persisted. In the evening that day, Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer commander 45th Infantry Brigade at Jalandhar, arrived in Amritsar. He immediately established file facto army rule, though the official proclamation to this effect was not made until 15 April. The troops at his disposal included 475 British and 710 Indian soldiers. On 12 April he issued an order prohibiting all meetings and gatherings. On 13 April which marked the Baisakhi festival, a large number of people, mostly Sikhs, had poured into the city from the surrounding villages. Local leaders called upon the people to assemble for a meeting in the JallianwalaBagh at 4.30 p.m in the evening. Brigadier-General Dyer set out for the venue of the meeting at 4.30 p.m. with 50 riflemen and two armored cars with machine guns mounted on them.
Meanwhile, the meeting had gone on peacefully, and two resolutions, one calling for the repeal of the Rowlett Act and the other condemning the firing on 10 April, had been passed. A third resolution protesting against the general repressive policy of the government was being proposed when Dyer arrived at about 5.15 p.m. He deployed his riflemen on an elevation near the entrance and without warning or ordering the crowd to disperse, opened fire. The firing continued for about 20 minutes where after Dyer and his men marched back the way they had come. 1650 rounds of 303 inch ammunition had been fired. Dyer’s own estimate of the killed based on his rough calculations of one dead per six bullets fired was between 200 and 300. The official figures were 379 killed and 1200 wounded. They used up every single bullet they had even as the crowd had begun to disperse as soon as the firing began. Dyer directed them to aim and fire for maximum damage. Later, he said he would have used the machine guns had the two armoured cars been able to enter the garden. There was no warning. Among those who managed to escape was 21-year-old Udham Singh, an orphan raised at Putlighar in the holy city. Twenty-one years later, on March 13, 1940, Udham, who had close association with Bhagat Singh’s Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, shot Michael O’ Dwyer at Caxton Hall in London.
The site, JallianwalaBagh became a national place of pilgrimage. The Bagh was acquired by the nation on 1 August 1920 but the actual construction of the memorial had to wait until after Independence. The monument, befittingly named the Flame of Liberty, , was inaugurated by DrRajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic of India, on 13 April 1961. The central 30-ft high pylon, a four-sided tapering stature of red stone standing in the midst of a shallow tank, is built with 300 slabs with Ashoka Chakra, the national emblem, carsed on them. A stone lantern stands at each corner of the tank. On all four sides of the pylon the words, “In memory of martyrs, 13 April 1919”, has been inscribed in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and English. After the resolution of 1919 it was proposed that the JallianwalaBagh be converted into a park where on a simple memorial is erected with a suitable inscription perpetuating the memory of the dead and commemorating the Hindu-Muslim unity. The founders of the memorial were clear about one thing: There will not be a word in it calculated to promote bitterness or ill will against anybody.
(The author is a Ph.D. Research Scholar at University Of Indore and can be reached at: [email protected])